Editorial by Rajesh Ahuja
I started my journalistic career in June 1982 as an Apprentice with The National Herald at Delhi. The first lesson I learnt from the seniors was to be always “balanced”, “unbiased” and always maintain “credibility.” This same mantra was dinned into me during my long stint with The Hindu from June 1986 to September 2012 and which I have always striven to follow as cub reporter,crime reporter,civic affairs reporter,court reporter and later Special Correspondent covering politics and Northern states of Punjab and Chandigarh and Haryana and further on as Editor-in-Chief of North India Kaleidoscope.
Those were the golden days of print journalism! Even in The National Herald, dubbed as a Congress newspaper, we were encouraged by the late Yashpal Kapoor to write boldly and fearlessly. I recall that I was assigned to cover Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 1983 and I wrote many hard-hitting pieces exposing the malaises and highlighting the woes of the common man. The leader of the Standing Committee, I have forgotten his name, called me to his room and hurled abuses at me and threatened to have me thrown out of job. I listened silently. He phoned Mr.Kapoor and complained and demanded I be “sacked” otherwise he would take it up with Indira Gandhi!. Mr.Kapoor just asked me to return to the office and meet him. I entered the sanctum sanctorum full of fear but was surprised to be told to continue doing what I was doing. He further advised me to be “balanced” and avoid giving names of Congress leaders who were “touchy” but never subscribed to The Herald.
I recall that there was one Engineer in the Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking and he barged into the Herald office on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg threatening me. The Herald staff handled him politely and he later became a friend but the story was not withdrawn.
There are many incidents in my career. A few politicians even complained against me to the powers that be in The Hindu but I stood by what I wrote. And later they appreciated it.
However, things have now changed and as a veteran journalist with over 34+ years experience, I am saddened.
A reporter of Dainik Bhaskar, based in Haryana’s Panchkula adjoining Chandigarh, wrote an article against the functioning of the Panchkula Municipal Corporation. I don’t subscribe to the newspaper but I read the story online and I did not find anything wrong in it. A journalist has the right to expose the functioning of the government. The norm is that if his or her facts are not right, you can send a rejoinder to the Editor or to the Press Council of India.
The Municipal Commissioner, an IAS officer, got irked by the “story” and he and his relative summoned the reporter and allegedly threatened him with “dire consequences”. The scribe is said to have lodged a police complaint and the local Press Club and the Chandigarh Press Club rallied to his cause. The scribes brought the issue to the notice of the BJP-led Haryana Government and demanded action against the officer.
The journalists staged a protest outside the office of the Panchkula Municipal Corporation as per their democratic right. However, what is condemnable is that workers and staff of the Municipal Corporation came out on the warpath and shouted slogans against the protesting media persons. A heavy police presence averted a virtual “clash” as the MC workers were reportedly in high tempers and even tried to attack the scribes.
Later stories were put out by some vested interests that the Bhaskar scribe had done the story n instructions of a senior who wanted to “settle scores” with the IAS officer. It is also being alleged by those close to the officer that the Congress Mayor was reportedly involved in the imbroglio. These unsubstantiated things do not matter.
Several questions of ethics arise. Suppose a journalist writes a story, will the affected person write to the Editor and so on and bring the matter to the notice of the State Government or directly threaten the scribe?. Will Government staff become a party to a personal dispute and leave their duties and participate in a counter-protest or initiate direct action and take law into their own hands?. Shouldn’t the Government take disciplinary action against the “employees”?
As I said there is a need for “balance” and ‘‘sobriety.’’Interestingly, most of the print media ignored the issue. I must congratulate The Tribune and its worthy Editor Harish Khare for a well-written and balanced story put out by his Panchkula team.
I personally learnt from Dr.Khare when he was my ‘boss” at The Hindu. This is how journalism should be.